CARLSBAD, Calif. — A “heavily pregnant” sea lioness crashed on a San Diego County luxury golf course Thursday afternoon, presenting a unique challenge to rescuers who eventually carried her back to the sea.
Workers at Omni La Costa Resort first spotted the animal on the green Thursday morning. That’s about three miles from shore, though rescuers later noted that the animal made its way inland through the Batiquitos Lagoon, likely making its overland journey “only” a mile or so.
Golf course staff called SeaWorld Animal Rescue, and when program supervisor Jeni Smith and her team arrived, the animal did not appear to be in any immediate danger or distress, she told FOX 5 in a phone interview. That’s in contrast to a harrowing rescue Smith and her team conducted earlier this year, when a sea lion managed to get onto a busy San Diego freeway.
“It was comfortable, cozy on the golf course,” Smith said, laughing. And the animal didn’t seem very concerned about all the fuss.
Still, the sea lioness was clearly pregnant, and the SeaWorld team wanted her returned to her natural habitat quickly and carefully. Smith said he was too far from the pond to simply walk around coaxing the animal back into the water.
When they tried to get close to the sea lion, it started walking in the wrong direction, moving quite quickly despite its significant size, Smith said. Rescuers blocked the animal’s path to the east with their truck and regrouped.
Smith ultimately decided to recruit resort employees, giving them a “brief safety briefing” and giving each one a “shield” — large plastic sheets with handles that they could use to block the animal’s path. Rescuers and bewildered golf course workers lined up and created a tunnel of sorts, giving the sea lion a path and guiding it toward the parked rescue truck.
The plan worked, and once the sea lion was safely cornered, the rescue team set off for nearby Carlsbad State Beach. There, a crowd of locals and summer tourists excitedly watched the rescue.
For a moment, the show-stealing sea lion didn’t want to leave the truck, Smith said. But he eventually got out and returned to the sand, swimming safely in the ocean.
The rescue team thinks it won’t be long before she returns to shore to give birth to her pups, hopefully on the beach, not on a tennis court somewhere.
In his interview, Smith effusively thanked the Omni staff, not only for their help in coaxing the animal, but also for allowing them to drive the rescue truck on its pristine route.
“That was the first thing I asked,” he said with a laugh.
SeaWorld doesn’t name the animals it rescues and returns to the wild, but the lifeguards who helped escort the rescue team opted for the golf nickname “Bogey.”
That’s only slightly less conspicuous than “Freeway,” the widely used nickname for the aforementioned animal that hit State Route 94 in January. That sea lion is actually a repeat offender: The rescue had previously cornered him on busy Harbor Island Drive and even in a La Jolla gift shop.
While the exploits of Bogey and Freeway made hard-to-forget headlines, Smith said sea lions that make it this far ashore are still pretty rare. The team thinks the lagoon may have held a food source the sea lion was looking for, but they’re still not sure why it wandered onto the green.
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